Better Bay These Days?
The quality of New York’s open waterways has improved greatly since the 1970s, according to the 2003 New York Harbor Water Quality Report, but the results for Jamaica Bay are less impressive.
“We’re winning the battle for the overall Harbor, but there is still work to be done. The next battleground is the local waterways that are enclosed and in close proximity to people and sewage outfalls,” said Commissioner Christopher O. Ward of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
A leading indicator of water quality is the level of fecal coliform, according to Ian Micheals of the DEP. Fecal coliform in water means that there is raw sewage or partially treated sewage in the water.
Water in the Bay naturally circulates less than water in rivers. The lack of circulation creates an environment where harmful elements don’t dissipate.
Most of the sewage in Jamaica Bay comes from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). They are the discharge of untreated water when it storms or when snow melts.
This happens because the storm water/sewage system in many places in New York City is very old, according to Beau Ranheim, Section Chief of Marine Sciences Section of the DEP, and were linked together before the ramifications of dumping raw sewage into water bodies was understood.
According to Ranheim, there are five or six CSO outfalls that discharge into the Bay.
What about swimming, fishing and clamming in Jamaica Bay water?
“If it’s not raining, and it hasn’t rained in 48 hours, [all the water is safe for swimming],” said Ranheim.
Fishing and eating fish from Jamaica Bay is legal, but there is a health advisory regarding eating anything from the Bay.
“I can’t suggest [clamming],” said Ranheim.
Toxic chemicals from years of industrial use of the harbor, not sewage, are what make the animals unsafe to eat.
“That will take a long time to clean up,” said Ranheim.